Rizzo is the true heroine of 'Grease.' There, I said it.
In case you didn’t know, Rizzo is making a major comeback. Vanessa Hudgens is set to play the role of top Pink Lady in ‘Grease Live,’ the FOX reboot of the iconic musical. “She’s deep, you know,” Hudgens just told Entertainment Weekly. “She’s a toughie.” No doubt. She’s also the true heroine of Rydell High, if you ask one of our contributors. And we did.
Growing up, Grease was my favorite movie. I would sing all the words to “Sandra Dee” and “Greased Lightning” without understanding what any of them meant. At the tender age of five, I was scolded by my mother for saying a common Italian expletive Rizzo uses in the movie, because I didn’t even know it was a curse word. I was incredibly invested in the story of good girl Sandy Olsson and bad boy Danny Zuko, two star-crossed lovers who must overcome their differences in social status to be together.
Facing much more serious questions than Sandy’s “How do I impress the guy I like?” is Rizzo, the fearless leader of the girl gang Pink Ladies. After hooking up with her boyfriend Kenickie, Rizzo worries she might be pregnant. Word gets out quickly, as it always does in high school—whether its 1959, 1978, or 1978 masquerading as 1959—and Rizzo finds her reputation on the line. In the film’s most touching moment, Rizzo sings “There Are Worse Things (I Could Do),” the only time the audience gets true insight into how Rizzo is really feeling. Rizzo explains how she’s not content to stay at home and wait for the right guy—nor should she be—but she also wouldn’t judge someone for making the choices she has. Rizzo loves Kenicke, but she won’t allow him to see her be vulnerable or admit the only guy she’s been with is him.
Grease would have you believe that Sandy is its heroine; she is one of its two main characters, after all. But in order to get the guy she wants, Sandy changes who she is entirely. She casts aside her good girl image for different clothes and hair in order to prove to Danny they can be together. Danny also makes some changes by going out for the school’s track team, but casts aside his letterman jacket immediately once he sees Sandy’s transformation. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—it leads to a pretty spectacular finale, after all—but as a character, Rizzo always inspired me more. She doesn’t change for anyone. It would be easy for Rizzo to become the goody-two-shoes her peers demand she be, but she doesn’t relent.
Sure, Rizzo is acid tongued and sarcastic. No, it’s not exactly nice of her to mock Sandy’s pure ways. But there’s also a lot more to her. It’s not easy to find your place in high school, no matter what year it is, and Rizzo is trying to make her way as best she can. Even though she’s initially suspicious of Sandy,she ends up letting her into the group. Her tough girl thing hides someone who’s real and vulnerable, someone who is just trying to figure this teenager thing out.
I’ll admit, from where I was sitting at ages five through 12, I was looking up to Sandy. But as I grew older, my favorite was always Rizzo, who sticks to her convictions and still gets her happy ending. Besides, I love Sandy, but who wants to wear that much leather in the California summer? No thank you.
[Image courtesy Paramount Pictures]